Many an adoptee has shouted at his or her adoptive mother: “You are not my real mother!” The real mother the adoptee imagines is probably a movie star or CEO who has conceived her baby in love and carried it for nine long months until birth did they part.
But as I watched Google Baby on HBO, an Israeli produced film about global outsourcing of surrogacy in India, I had a moment of panic for the babies being born there. Who is their real mother? Is it the American woman who sold her eggs to be mixed with an unknown American man’s sperm to make the embryo that will be frozen and packed in liquid nitrogen and flown to a surrogacy clinic in India, there to be placed in an Indian woman’s uterus to become a baby that will be given to the couple who ordered it? If that sounds long-winded and complicated, it is.
The problem is that adoptees imagine the real mother is the one who carried them in her womb. That is where they believe they bonded. The sound of her voice, the movement of her body is imprinted on them. At three days they can recognize the smell of her milk. So where do those who are created by surrogacy go when they go in search of their real mother? To the woman whose egg has their genetic map? Or to the non- genetically related woman in a small town in India, who lives in a nice house because of the money she got for carrying them for what must have seemed like nine very long months. The film shows how they were whisked away from her at the moment of birth – no cuddling or breast feeding here.
We learn that these surrogate mothers must live at the clinic during their pregnancy. We see them lying in a room filled with cots, an overhead fan slicing through the heat. This is what the maternity home my mother was in must have looked like, I thought. All those pregnant women living together in various stages of pregnancy until they delivered the goods and were allowed to go home.
So there’s no passion, or love, or sex in these outsourced surrogate arrangements. Egg donors, who should be called egg sellers, go their separate way after delivering their eggs, just as their eggs go their separate way to help make a baby. The egg sellers will never know if a baby was the final product. But that’s not the name of their game, which was to have money for schooling, or whatever their needs.
Considering how controversial surrogacy is, Zippi Brand Frank, the Israeil producer and writer, does not moralize, but rather presents everyone in a sympathetic light. The inspiration for the film is a gay Israeli man named Doron, a father through surrogacy, who sets up a business procuring eggs and sperm in America, which are made into embryos for Indian women to make into babies for the childless.
We are told that what parents pay for hiring a surrogate mother in India is much less than they would pay in the States. We are not told what the baby will pay in identity confusion over the years no matter what surrogate womb it is incubated in.